In Movies & TV

"Napoleon Dynamite" is hardly an explosion of laughs

Don't be fooled into thinking that Jared Hess' "Napoleon Dynamite" is an Elvis Costello-related film. Rather it is a hyped-up Wes Anderson-style nerd comedy.

Set in Hess' rural hometown of Preston, Idaho, the 90-minute film at first brings to mind Todd Solondz's 1995 "Welcome to the Dollhouse," thanks to its tight focus on one particular nerdy high school kid: Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder), with his shock of rosy frizz, moon boots and his selection of dorky T-shirts.

But, unlike, "Dollhouse," we don't feel much sympathy for the anti-hero, rather we just point and laugh at him, much like the majority of his school mates do.

Napoleon lives with his good times grandma and closeted gay brother Kip (Aaron Ruell). When grandma goes out dune buggying, pathetic and pseudo-suave Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) comes to stay with the brothers, who seem a bit old to need a babysitter, especially one as self-involved and dimwitted as Rico.

Napoleon, of course, has no friends. Until, that is, he meets the new kid Pedro (Efren Ramirez), who has all the vim and vigor of a 1960s cartoon Mexican stereotype.

That's the main problem with "Napoleon Dynamite" -- all the characters are over-the-top stereotypes.

Napoleon's love interest Deb (Tina Majorino) is the quirky, mildly cute, shy girl (although she has a business doing glamour photography). Pedro is the kind of character that ought to have Mexican Americans shouting, "foul!," and Rico's obsession with his high school football career is so overplayed it ceases to be comedy. And let's not even discuss Kip.

In the end, some laughs do come (it's helpful if Napoleon's voice actually reminds you of someone you know!). However, it's hard to tell if Hess is poking good-natured fun at Idahoans or if he's as mean-spirited as his film sometimes seems.

Ignore the hype, expect a decent, but not great, geek chic experience and you won't be disappointed.

"Napoleon Dynamite" opens Friday, July 9 at Landmark's Oriental Theatre.


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